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Assisted Decision Making - A Philosophical Investigation

A new kind of normative decision theory has emerged that treats decision makers as often confused about their own objectives and unable to find and implement necessary means. At the same time, this approach claims to respect the pluralism of values, and the freedom of individual choice. This approach of assisted decision-making (ADM) seeks to actively engage in the decision process itself, assisting people's choice of right means for reaching their objectives. It has already found numerous applications in hospitals, consumer regulations and pension schemes.

My research project investigates ADM from a philosophical perspective. Combining methods from philosophy of science, decision theory and moral philosophy, it clarifies the conceptual distinction between traditional decision theory and ADM, investigates in normative and scientific foundations, examines its effectiveness and its ethical and political implications Together, these investigations aim in the first place at an improved understanding of the specific potentials and problems of ADM. But this understanding has a clear practical purpose: to inform the use and evaluation of this new role of decision theory, to help opening up new fruitful areas of its employment, and to provide arguments for the restriction of its use in problematic areas. The result is a practically relevant philosophical inquiry that actively participates in and shapes a policy-focused debate.

The project ran from 2012-2014 and was funded by the Swedish Research Council.

The Market and Marketization: Models, Mechanisms, and Explanation

The project consists of a series of interdisciplinary workshops focusing on the Market, a central institution in contemporary society, and Marketization, a central process shaping and reshaping the world we live in. The workshops mobilize the best virtues of interdisciplinarity: Philosophy of science serves a coordinating function as the fragmented investigations into the market institution in multiple disciplines will be brought together. The interdisciplinary encounters and cross-pollinations will result in enriched scientific understanding as well as politically and morally relevant information of the various dimensions and limits of The Market and marketization.

The project was organized in collaboration with TINT, ran from 2010-2013 and was funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation.

Understanding the Modelling Revolution in the Social Sciences

The social sciences are experiencing a Modelling Revolution: in many disciplines, models have become important tools of investigation. I investigate the significance of this change by addressing three questions: The project approaches these questions with methods from a number of disciplines. Its main perspective is that of the philosophy of science. It also draws on research experience in the social sciences, especially economics; as well as on approaches from the history and sociology of science and literary theory. The project's interdisciplinary nature is further consolidated by its focus on the historical transfer of modelling methods across disciplines, and its critical comparison of modelling practices and results between disciplines.

The project ran from 2007-2011 and was funded by the Helsinki Collegium of Advanced Studies.

Assessing Economic Models

The aim of my main research project is to investigate economic modelling practices; the working hypothesis is that these practices are substantially different from modelling practices in other disciplines, (as well as from other theorising styles more generally) and therefore require their own methodology and appraisal criteria. Because economic models play important roles for private and public decision making, for understanding history as well as for formulating policies for the future, the project aim of providing unambiguous assessment criteria is relevant not only for economists, but for the public at large.

The project ran from 2007-2008 and was funded by TINT.

Modelling Preferences

The Robbins/Parsons division of labour between economics and sociology is no more: the notion of preference has become an important research topic in economics. Behavioural research has pointed to the effect of institutions and behavioural contexts on preferences, and sporadically, endogenous preferences are allowed into economic models. These instances remain exceptions, though, and the majority of economic research still employs a very thin notion of preference in its decision theoretic models. My research project aims at enriching this notion of preference (or, more broadly, motivation) in two ways.

First, I am interested in the relation between concrete and abstract preferences. Concrete preferences rank particulars (objects, states, events) and hence are closely linked to choices. Abstract preferences rank properties of these particulars. In the forms of reasons, they play important roles in our deliberation. I investigate how such preference are individuated, how they relate to each other, and how preference conflict and preference trade-off can be modelled with this framework.

Second, I am interested in modelling preference change. Against the famous de gustibus argument, I believe that we not only change our (concrete) preferences, but also our underlying (abstract) tastes, and that these changes must be explicitly modelled to obtain a better understanding of human behaviour. With techniques formally related to the theory of rational belief revision, I model preference change (i) as the perturbation of the preference state by an input, and (ii) as the adjustment of the preference state to restore consistency. In particular, I am developing criteria that select between alternative adjustments, and I seek to endogenously derive these criteria from the preference representations themselves.

The project ran from 2004-2007 and was funded by the Royal Institute of Technology.

Preference Structures

This project proposed a model of how different types of preference are interrelated. Preferences can be specified between different concrete options the agent faces, and between abstract aspects of those options. Preferences over these options, I argue, are the only ones that can be derived from observed behaviour; but preferences over aspects are necessary for the explanation and prediction of behaviour. I construct a principle of equivalence that connects the two levels, based on a model of causal beliefs.

The project ran from 2000-2001 and was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service.

Preferences in the Social Sciences

This project investigated conceptual and methodological problems of the notion of preference. I focused on the notion of preference as used in the social sciences to predict and explain behaviour. It resulted in my doctoral thesis 'Rational Causes - The Concept of Preference in the Social Sciences'.

The project ran from 1999-2002 and was funded by the LSE PhD Scholarship.

Preference Change

This project developed a model of preference change. It is constructed following the general structure of models of epistemic change. It distinguishes between the externally caused direct change of a single preference, and the collateral change that the system has to undergo in order to accommodate the direct change and remain consistent. The satisfaction of these two principles of accommodation and consistency still allow for a multitude of possible results, which need to be narrowed down by additional principles. The two further principles discussed here are that of conservatism and entrenchment. Three preference change operators are constructed that satisfy some important properties.

The project ran from 1998-1999 and was funded by the German Academic Exchange Service.